Welcome to the transport ministry, Anthony Loke

The newly appointed minister has his work cut out for him in transforming the transport and logistics services, especially public transport services.

COMMENT

By Rosli Khan

I would like to congratulate YB Anthony Loke on his appointment as our new transport minister. Given the defeat of the previous minister in Bentong in the recently concluded GE14, I am pretty sure YB Anthony is excited about managing and transforming this ministry under the new government of Pakatan Harapan.

Transport, after all, is the nerve centre that keeps everything flowing and moving – it supports economic and commercial activities and facilitates trade and industry.

His first statement about the closure of MH370 and tackling road accidents was spot on. These are important issues that fall under two of the many departments within the ministry – aviation and road safety – that deserve his undivided attention. Getting SPAD under the wing of the transport ministry (MoT) is another contentious issue.

As far as MH370 is concerned, the airline is owned by Khazanah Nasional, a government-owned conglomerate which definitely needs to undergo a revamp.

The fact that the airline’s operating and route licences were issued by the MoT shows that airlines services in this country are still highly regulated despite calls for an open sky policy, especially for the domestic sector. The MoT can undertake a review of this policy, if there is one, or work on a more liberated air policy for better capacity and more competitive air services, if that is the ultimate intention.

A regulatory role for the issuing of air service licences for domestic airlines, as well as landing rights to international airlines for airports in Malaysia, should be expanded, if the aim is to improve. One of the many ways for the MoT to improve is to review policy matters and services planning, including the provision of rural air services and services funding for remote areas in Sabah and Sarawak.

MoT also owns and regulates domestic and international airports (through ATC) although the management and day-to-day operations are now grouped together under Malaysia Airports (MAB). Airports such as KLIA and those in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Penang are the more lucrative side of aviation services. All, except the airport in Johor Bahru which has been privatised, are managed by MAB, a listed entity owned and managed by the MoF.

Thus, when the Subang SkyPark terminal recently changed ownership, the approving authority was via MAB, agreed to by the MoF rather than the MoT.

Road safety

Similarly, in the case of road safety, the MoT is hardly involved in the planning of roads and highways in this country. This responsibility lies with the works ministry (via JKR for major roads) and another dedicated body, the Malaysian Highway Authority (MHA) which calls the shots when it comes to highway planning, approval for highway concessions and construction, setting of toll rates and, most pertinent of all, determining the safety standards for roads and highways.

This last element is perhaps what the minister had in mind when he spoke on road safety.

At the moment, the road safety audit (RSA) is done selectively for some JKR-built roads only. Since the advent of tolled roads, there has not been many roads built by JKR anymore.

Most of the local roads are in fact built by local authorities. That explains the sub-standard designs, conditions and pot holes found all over the place. These local roads, however, often provide critical links or connections and access to interchanges to major roads and highways, which again are often not built to the same engineering standards and do not possess similar safety standards and features.

Often, their design and construction finishing are found to be of sub-standard level and lack safety features which often lead to bottlenecks and road accidents. Another point to note is that highways are often left in the hands of concession holders (privatised companies) to manage and operate. These private companies, in most cases, are only interested in toll collections, not in resolving safety or congestion issues.

I believe this is where road safety issues can be tackled: at the source. There is definitely a role for the MoT (via the Road Safety Department as well as Miros) to play here in order to ensure that all roads and highways meet international safety standards and operating capacity so that accidents can be reduced. But it has to go through local authorities where funding is always an issue.

Port authorities

The minister may also have been briefed about the other departments within the ministry: the Road Transport Department, which is responsible for the registration and collection of road tax for road motor vehicles and training of drivers; and the Marine Department, responsible for maritime vessel registration, administration of vessel movements at ports and collection of port and light dues.

Aside from these two fairly large and important revenue collecting departments, there are several port authorities, which are basically dormant organisations as their key roles in port operations were privatised long ago, during Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first tenure as prime minister.

Today, port authorities have a limited role to play despite the large headcount in the respective organisations. Further staff rationalisation, perhaps in the form of consolidating them all through the formation of a national port authority (NPA), should be reconsidered. Another option is to merge them with the state marine department, which will definitely save costs for the new government.

Yet another aspect of transport administration that needs an immediate revamp is the way new railway lines, including the MRT and LRT, are being planned. This aspect of planning somehow skips away from the MoT and was kept under SPAD, a relatively new body that reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. I believe this why MoT should have this agency.

SPAD

SPAD played the dual role of a regulatory authority as well as a planning agency. According to the latest comments from taxi associations, as far as taxi administration is concerned, SPAD has failed miserably.

SPAD is responsible for the issuing of licences or permits to taxis, buses, lorries and rail operators. Land transport is basically regulated by SPAD through the SPAD Act.

SPAD, formed as a second thought to copy Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA), but with limited success, is not only struggling to rein in and manage the many different modes and private operators under its wing, it has also been challenged with coordinating the many different elements of planning and management of the public transport functions and regulating them at the same time.

To make matters worse, SPAD also undertakes enforcement, which is similar to JPJ and the traffic police. T

Having said that, however, SPAD does not monopolise the transport planning functions for Malaysia. There is also Prasarana, created under the MoF to plan and manage the light rail transit systems, LRT1, 2 and 3.

And yet, there is also another body, MRT Corporation, which was created some years ago when the previous government wanted to plan for MRT1, 2 and 3. MoT, somehow, did not play much of a role in the creation, let alone the management of these entities.

And then came MyHSR, another railway planning outfit that is supposed to look into the planning aspect of building a high speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

And by the way, which authority supervises the electric rail link (ERL) to KLIA?

What about KTM?

KTM has a network of railway lines from Padang Besar to Johor Bahru, and Gemas to Tumpat, an under-utilised capacity that requires new investment in order to make it play a useful role. Sadly, KTM is another loss-making railway operating company that is also placed under the supervision of the MoF.

Actually, KTM used to be under the MoT. But now, only the rail assets, land and tracks are actually owned by an agency, Railway Assets Corporation (RAC), which is under the MoT.

The RAC is slowly being turned into a regulatory authority, although its main activities at the moment are more like that of a property developer, developing what it terms “transit oriented development” (TOD) together with private sector developers. Many of these developments, upon closer scrutiny on what used to be KTM lands, do not actually benefit KTM financially.

As a continuation to this tangled web of government-owned agencies, there is now the Malaysian Rail Link (MRL) that was formed to plan and manage the ECRL. This gargantuan RM55 billion project should be reviewed, given that Malaysia’s total borrowing has reached the one trillion mark. I am sure the YB minister would agree to this review.

And for the MoT’s reference, do these bodies (LRT, MRT, monorail) actually manage the day-to-day running of their train services, stations and facilities? The answer is a big no.

The LRT, monorail, MRT1 and most of the buses are actually contracted out to be managed by another government agency, RapidKL (owned by Prasarana), which is owned by the MoF. How odd, the minister might say.

After reading this short review, I think the minister would be aware that the MoT is nothing but a tax and charges collecting ministry (via JPJ for road tax and driving licence; DCA for landing charges and ATC; Marine Department for port and light dues; and port authorities for port lease payment). That is why this ministry was of lesser importance and used to be looked after by a “lame duck” MCA minister.

Seriously, transforming the MoT will require more than just taking over SPAD. It should involve taking over Prasarana, MRT Corp, MyHSR, MRL (ECRL), KTM and all the rest. If the minister is serious about transforming transport and logistics services, especially public transport services, there is no choice but to take over the whole lot.

I am very positive and hope that the minister will take up the challenge.

Rosli Khan is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


The views expressed in the contents are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of FMT.


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